Employment accent?

Monday, August 3rd, 2009 - career coaching, Employment, Job Advert, Job Application, job hunting, job search, job seeking, tutorial

Employment accent?

Does an accent have any bearing on employment?


Claire asks: I’ve been applying for jobs for around 3 months now, and I generally have to ring up the company to follow up the CV. Nine times out of ten I am rejected over the phone, and have even had the phone put down on me. I was speaking to one of my friends’ relatives who is from Ireland as well, and she told me that most likely I wouldn’t be employed due to prejudice against my accent, and that in England people think the Irish are a little stupid. I find this hard to believe. I’ve lived in England for 2 years now and been treated normally by the majority of people, but it’s making me feel a little paranoid when I phone places now. Is there any truth in what she said? I’ve also been asked several times if I am over 16, despite the fact that I stated clearly on my CV that I have a degree.

In answer:
As always, the answer is – it depends. However, I think there is more truth in the second part of your question, than in your friends thoughts

Firstly, don’t expect the recruiter or employer to have read your CV when you call. It doesn’t matter whether you applied one minute or one year ago, unless your skills fit their job is its most likely to have ended up in the rejected “thank you for your application” pile over the must read next pile.

Secondly, keep calling the employers. It will make a difference.

However, the key issue in any successful job application is to ensure you listen to feedback. Always ask for feedback on why you were unsuitable for the roles, wholly on the pre-explained basis that you accept their decision but want to be more prepared for the next job application.

As an ex-telephone engineer myself, what I can tell you is that the filters applied to a modern telephone line are not as harsh as they were in my day, but they are nominally still more aligned to the low bass tones of the male accent over the female accent. Hence, most women sound deeper and older over a telephone line than they will in direct conversation.

Therefore, assuming when you call they probably have not read your CV, and if you sound to the average listener as under 16 on a telephone, all the questions and the result make sense.

Regionalised accent

Is there accent bias in employment? There are accent biases, proven by a number of surveys. But, there is proven far more bias against poor job seekers who don’t have the skills for the advertised job, over a regionalised/national accent.

Unless the job involves a lot of telephone work which requires clarity of speech to a diverse audience, then most will ignore it if you have the required skills. If you happen to be applying for a job, and have the same skills as someone with a less regionalised accent which is more easily understood, then yes I think you could be rejected on job grounds as the other person could be perceived as more able to do the job to deliver the required results.

Telephone voice

What should you do? The issue normally in clarity of speech is not accent, but diction and delivery – most notably, the speed of your speech delivery and the way in which you therefore project words. The answer, without ditching your wonderful regional accent to a 1950’s cinema London city gent type, is simply to slow your speed of delivery down. If  you want an example of this in action, then listen to one of the regional news channels nightly broadcasts – a distinct regional accent delivered at a pace slower than the average, making them appear both clearer and older than they are. Use this as your example, and use these simple exercises:

  • Listen to nightly regional news broadcasts
  • Read a piece of text from a newspaper – counting “1” between each word
  • Start taking a breath between each sentence

Try it out first with a few friends, and see what they think. If they suggest you start sounding more like the national news broadcaster over a regional news reporter, then you have gone top fare, but something slower should deliver better results, if you have the required job skills in the first place.

Good Luck!


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